COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A longtime Columbus businessman is dedicated to helping at-risk youth.
Standing on the steps of what will soon be the Martin Luther King Outdoor Learning Trail at Coolidge and MLK Boulevard, students chanted the very sentiments of the iconic civil rights leader.
They are helping to renovate the wall in Dr. King's memory while learning life lessons at the hands of Columbus businessman and children's advocate Ronzell Buckner.
Buckner's work with at risk youth in the community started a year before that offering free tutoring classes at the Fluellen Rec Center through his organization called Turn Around Columbus.
"The first thing I want them to learn is they are going to have to take ownership," Buckner said. "Turn Around Columbus is about teaching kids how they can claim their community."
Work on the wall began three years ago with a ground breaking ceremony on MLK Day of this year.
'We want the kids that have the baddest grades, also the kids that have the baddest attitudes and it's not just for the kids," Buckner said. "We go into the homes to speak with parents to find out what their shortcomings [are] and what they're doing correctly."
Kids are bused to the center from Brewer and MLK Elementary schools twice a week where they work on computers.
He also gives the older students to get work experience at his business Skippers Seafood on Buena Vista Road.
"Their behavior has changed tremendously, we visited classrooms," Buckner said. "They do not interrupt the classes any longer and their grades have improved tremendously."
We stopped by the tutoring session on Wednesday. With the help of dedicated volunteers, students like Ja'Dale Lenear from Brewer Elementary are getting one-on-one help after school.
"It helped me because at first I didn't want to learn but they had took their time out to talk to me and I realized that learning can be fun," Ja'Dale said.
Turn Around Columbus has a proven track record – two of Buckner's students who graduated from Carver High School are now in college. One is at Albany State and another at a Chicago school.
The MLK trail will also honor people and businesses in the community, and is expected to cost more than $55,000. If you'd like to donate, contact Turn Around Columbus by visiting their website at this link.